When we looked back at our notes from the national final season, we heard Tim Gunn’s voice echoing through our brains: “It’s all a matter of taste.” There are a couple of songs on our list that were, shall we say, less than beloved by other Eurovision diehards. Maybe these choices will reflect poorly on us, but we don’t care because they brought us joy. That is all we can ever ask for out of pop music.
France: Nassi – “Rêves de gamin”
Destination Eurovision, France’s national final competition, was the best national final of them all in 2018. Even the songs that were clunkers were better than other countries’ Eurovision entries. We could have picked most of the songs for our list.
We were familiar with Nassi before the competition from his single “La vie est belle.” If anything, “Rêves de gamin” suffered a bit from hewing too close to the “La vie est belle” template. (Well, that and Nassi lacked confidence when performing.) We loved it anyway.
France: Malo’ – “Ciao”
“Ciao” is a stomping indie anthem that was perhaps a bit too out there for a general audience. But Malo’ is a unique artist with a gentle and distinct voice that drew us in.
Hungary: Yesyes – “I Let You Run Away”
In our Eurovision That Almost Was post, we focused on the song that scored the most points with the judging panel because A Dal usually doesn’t reveal the second place winner. We later saw on the ESC Hungary website that Yesyes had actually captured second place with 29% of the public vote (versus AWS’ 32%). So let’s revise our revisionist history. We’re usually fans of Ádám Szabó’s A Dal output and “I Let You Run Away” was his strongest effort to date. Of course, we’re biased towards accordion solos.
Hungary: Viktor Király – “Budapest Girl”
Yes, it is shamelessly commercial. Yes, it is relentlessly cheesy. Yes, the lyrics make us cringe. But we do not care. “Budapest Girl” made us stupidly happy.
Sweden: Samir & Viktor – “Shuffla”
Samir & Viktor’s brand of bro-schlager has become a Melodifestivalen staple and it has never been better than with “Shuffla.” From its silly sepia-tinged intro to its strategic use of an epic sax guy, “Shuffla” is an almost perfect Eurotrash dance anthem.
Estonia: Indrek Ventmann – “Tempel”
“Tempel” is the type of Eesti Laul entry that turns casual national final viewers into diehard Eesti-fans. (Laulheads?) The staging sees Indrek maintaining his peace while suffering through all the trappings of modern life, such as cell phone calls and strangers randomly scissoring up your t-shirt. The song goes on a bit at the end, but we forgive it because the whole package is fabulous.
Ukraine: Laud – “Waiting”
There is something appealingly askew about “Waiting.” It has a slithering groove that sidles up on you, but the arrangement and the backing vocals are slightly off-kilter. It made us pay attention.
Ukraine: Pur:Pur – “Fire”
Pur:Pur has a knack for moody, ethereal orchestrations and singer Nata Smirina has a striking fashion sense. They made it to the final of Ukraine’s national selection in 2016 with “We Do Change,” which we thought didn’t stand up to the band’s theatrical style. We liked “Fire” a lot more, yet it died in the semifinals. Go figure.
Portugal: JP Simões – “Alvoroço”
There is a fine line between awesome and WTF and JP Simões doesn’t care if he veers all over it as he struts along. “Alvoroço” kicks off with unsettling blasts of strings before settling into a cool little 1970s-tinged samba. JP’s rich baritone guides us along and, when we get unsettled by a sudden, brass-driven manic breakdown, he calms us down as he brings us home. It’s like a first visit to a big city condensed into a three-minute song.
Norway: Ida Maria – “Scandilove”
If we are being honest, “Scandilove” is utterly ridiculous. The too-cheeky-by-half lyrics wink so hard Ida Maria could have strained her eyelids. But “Scandilove” is catchier than the nasty cold that befell Ida at MGP. It’s so much fun and we only wish that she had been physically strong enough to carry it to its full potential.